Stress Resilience, Not Stress Elimination: In Pregnancy, During COVID and In Life
by Erin Kasper-Frett, EarthMother Midwifery
“Stress reduction” is a common phrase and goal for many. Not only is it a privilege to consider “lowering” our stress, it’s also not possible, not for the long term anyway. During this time of unprecedented health concerns and a novel virus, we are seeing the depth and breadth of stress. We are all having to find our own ways through loss (loved ones, jobs, social time, hugs) and perhaps some new ways of meeting and gathering (outside, online, masked). And this is even more apparent in pregnancy.
Let’s cover something right away: stress elimination is impossible, pregnant or not. Don’t get me wrong, you can make choices that lower your stress, especially if you have previously over-committed. However, these changes often do not last, in part, because whatever causes us to over commit or make choices that added the original stress will still be underlying. Or, we are in circumstances (like poverty or COVID adjustments) that cannot be avoided.
Instead of resisting, what if we learn how to flow. Let’s go for stress resilience, rather than elimination. Stress is part of the human experience. Stress comes in many forms: lack of sleep, pressures of work and family, or financial worries, but it can also include things such as fasting, exercise, traveling, family, etc. Stress is neither good nor bad. It just has an impact.
And it does impact our bodies and psyches. It increases adrenaline and cortisol in our bodies, shunting blood flow and energy away from organs and to the large muscle groups. This is great for an athletic event or to out run a tiger. It can trigger the flight, fight, freeze or fawn response in a person. This is helpful for many things, but if this happens when we don’t need to engage large muscle groups, it can lend itself to a host of other issues. When we live in a state of higher adrenaline and cortisol, without time to discharge and rebuild, it will take its toll. This is true for everyone, but the hormone pathways are even more involved and complicated in pregnancy.
In pregnancy, it’s more than just you involved, there is also a small human. Additionally, the liver and kidneys are already working harder in order to metabolize hormones and clean the body. So you have physical stress on top of emotional stress.
Good news! Perception is almost everything in relation to stress. I do not mean to discount emotional experiences. Your emotions are valid. But they are just that: emotion. They will come and go and stay and linger and leave. However, they do not have to control your actions. Growing scientific evidence shows if we can raise our good feelings, we have improvements in health, reduction of cortisol, and an increase in endorphins. This occurs even in labor. Additionally, in times of hormone changes like pregnancy, we are more at risk for things like depression and anxiety. It’s not all in your head--you deserve support. And for all of us, shifting our focus to the things for which we can be happy or grateful has health benefits.
So ask yourself, what brings your heart alive? And how much of your day is devoted to doing those things? Where can you increase your time doing those things and where can you simply shift your focus? For example, I love my job. I see parents welcome their new human into their family, grow with families and work through the struggles that happen in life as part of the care. I love it! But sometimes I just want to sleep in the night. I don’t want to get up to work. In those moments, I just take a minute and focus on the parts of my job that I DO like, the “why,” so I can shift my experience. And it works. Sometimes better than others, but, if I cannot shift, that is sign to me that I need to take some more rebuild time--even if it’s a minute in the bathroom.